The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women opened its sixteenth session this morning by electing Salma Kahn, of Bangladesh, as its new Chairperson and adopting its agenda and organization of work. Ms. Kahn succeeds Ivanka Corti, of Italy.
The Committee also elected three Vice-Chairpersons: Charlotte Abaka, of Ghana; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, of Spain; and Miriam Yolanda Estrada Castillo, of Ecuador. Aurora Javate de Dios, of the Philippines, was named Rapporteur. Officers of the 23-member Committee are elected for a two-year term.
The outgoing Chairperson, Ivanka Corti, of Italy, reported to the Committee on the activities between sessions, including the report of the seventh meeting of persons chairing the human rights treaty bodies, and on action taken by the General Assembly concerning treaty bodies. She noted the progress in cooperation with United Nations specialized agencies and other human rights treaty bodies.
While acknowledging the importance of the new two-session meeting yearly format, she pointed out that the backlog of reports of States parties to the Convention was so great that the new schedule would still be inadequate to fully resolve the problem.
The Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, Angela King, described the Committee as the central treaty body charged with implementing the objectives of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with respect to the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex. The goal of universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000 was a readily achievable goal with the increased number of States that were now party to it. The proposal for an optional protocol to allow individual and groups to petition the Committee would strengthen the Convention, she added.
Since the last session, five new experts to serve four-year terms in the Committee were elected by the States parties to the Convention, as follows: Ayse Feride Acar, of Turkey; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, of Cuba; Aida Gonzalez Martinez, of Mexico; Yung-Chung Kim, of the Republic of Korea; and Anne Lise Ryel, of Norway. Apart from Chairperson Salma Khan, five other members were re-elected: Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, of Spain; Silvia R. Cartwright, of New Zealand; Ahoua Ouedraogo, of Burkina Faso; Hanna Beate Schopp- Schilling, of Germany; and Kongit Sinegiorgis, of Ethiopia.
Also this morning, the Committee heard the introduction of the two agenda items to be considered by its two working groups, namely ways to improve its working methods, as well as implementation of article 21 of the Convention. That article provides for the Committee to make recommendations and suggestions regarding States parties reports.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its discussion of the mandates of its working groups.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met to open its sixteenth session this morning. It was expected to elect its officers, adopt the agenda and organization of work, and mandate its working groups. It was also scheduled to hear a report of the Chairperson of its fifteenth session on activities undertaken since the Committee last met and a review of the seventh meeting of persons chairing the human rights treaty bodies.
According to its provisional agenda (document CEDAW/C/1997/1), the Committee during its three-week session will consider the reports of eight States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on their efforts to implement the provisions of the only United Nations treaty that deals exclusively with women's rights. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/925 of 10 January.)
The Committee of experts, who serve in their personal capacity, is charged with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, opened for signature in March 1980, and entered into force in 1981. The Convention -- ratified by 154 countries as of December 1996 -- requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. In pursuing the Convention's goals, States parties are encouraged to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men.
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Before the Committee this morning is the report of the seventh meeting of persons chairing human rights treaty bodies (document A/51/482), held from 16 to 20 September 1996 at Headquarters and attended by representatives of the following bodies: Human Rights Committee; Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; Committee on the Rights of the Child; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; and the Committee against Torture.
The chairmen of those bodies approved several conclusions and recommendations under four categories: improving the operation of the human rights treaty bodies; cooperation of human rights treaty bodies with United Nations non-conventional human rights bodies and mechanisms and regional organizations; gender perspectives in the work of treaty bodies; and assistance to States in implementing Committee recommendations.
Among the recommendations made in the area of improving the operation of the human rights treaty bodies, the chairmen requested that the Economic and Social Council amend the rules of the Commission on Human Rights so that the treaty bodies are recognized as having a distinct status that would enable them to participate in all relevant meetings. They noted with concern that the plans to restructure the Centre for Human Rights proceeded without meaningful consultation with them or with the treaty bodies.
In the area of cooperation of human rights treaty bodies with United Nations non-conventional human rights bodies and mechanisms and regional organizations, the chairmen approved many recommendations, including that the Centre for Human Rights engage in an active dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions so that the applicable United Nations human rights instruments will be given a preeminent role in references to human rights standards by those institutions.
Regarding gender perspective in the work of the treaty bodies, recommendations made included that treaty bodies should consider the gender implications of each issue discussed under each of the articles of the respective instruments. Also, guidelines for the preparation of reports by States parties should be amended to reflect the necessity of providing specific information on the human rights of women for consideration by the respective committees.
Under assistance to States in implementing committee recommendations, the chairmen recommended that treaty bodies be specific when elaborating concluding observations on State party reports involving recommendations for technical assistance by the Centre for Human Rights to the State concerned.
The Committee's report on its fifteenth session (document A/51/38) is also before the current session.
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The 23 expert members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacity, are: Charlotte Abaka, of Ghana; Ayse Feride Acar, of Turkey; Emna Aouij, of Tunisia; Tendai Ruth Bare, of Zimbabwe; Desiree Patricia Bernard, of Guyana; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, of Spain; Silvia Rose Cartwright, of New Zealand; Ivanka Corti, of Italy; Aurora Javate de Dios, of the Philippines; Miriam Yolanda Castillo, of Ecuador; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, of Cuba; Aida Gonzalez, of Mexico; Sunaryati Hartono, of Indonesia; Salma Khan, of Bangladesh; Yung-Chung Kim, of the Republic of Korea; Ahoua Ouedraogo, of Burkina Faso; Anne Lise Ryel, of Norway; Ginko Sato, of Japan; Hanna Beate Schopp-Shilling, of Germany; Carmel Shalev, of Israel; Lin Shangzhen, of China; Kongit Sinegiorgis, of Ethiopia; and Mervat Tallaway, of Egypt.
In an opening statement, ANGELA KING, Director, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, said the current session came at an important time in the life of the United Nations with the election of the new Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. It also came after the end of the cycle of United Nations conferences, which had solidified linkages among the United Nations, civil society and non- governmental organizations and set the stage for further consolidating action and implementation.
The Committee should be encouraged by the steady increase in the number of States that were now party to the Convention, thereby making the objective of universal ratification by the year 2000 a readily achievable goal, she continued. Although the Convention was subject to a large number of reservations, there had been progress in that area, with the General Assembly calling for States parties to limit the extent of their reservations, to ensure that no reservation was incompatible with the Convention's object and purpose or otherwise incompatible with international treaty law. The Assembly had also urged States to review their reservations regularly with a view to withdrawing them.
Ms. KING said that as of 10 January, 11 States parties had accepted the amendment to the provision in article 20 (1) which limited the Committee's meeting time. The amendment was subject to approval by two thirds of the States parties. However, as an interim measure, the Assembly in resolution 51/68, had approved the Committee's request to be able to hold two three-week sessions annually, each preceded by a pre-session working group.
The seventeenth session would be held in New York from 7 to 25 July, preceded by a pre-session working group from 30 June to 3 July, she said. The interim measure would be overtaken shortly by the amendment and the two-week sessions would help the Committee address the backlog of country reports. The
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Secretariat was taking positive steps to encourage the significant numbers of States parties who had not submitted reports to the Committee to do so in a timely fashion.
Differences in legal systems, country situations and measures applied in implementing the Convention made the experts' work difficult and rewarding, she continued. In its 15-year lifespan, the Committee had established itself as the central treaty body with the task of implementing the objectives of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with respect to the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex. Concrete efforts had continued to strengthen the Convention and the Committee's role in achieving its goals by the proposal to add a complaints mechanism to the Convention by way of an optional protocol. The chairperson of the working group on the optional protocol had suggested she brief the Committee on developments. She proposed that officers of the Committee meet with the bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women to exchange views.
Noting that the Committee would take up the question of relations with non-governmental organizations, she said the Secretariat had prepared a thorough review of the experience of other treaty bodies on the matter. She proposed that the Committee's two working groups consider holding an informal joint meeting with interested non-governmental organizations. If the Committee agreed, the Secretariat would in future integrate questions supplied by experts so as to allow members of the pre-session working group to conduct a deeper review of States parties periodic reports and discuss themes that had emerged over time. She regretted that only nine experts had taken the opportunity to provide their input to the pre-session working group. The best results would be achieved if all experts supplied their questions well in advance, she added.
As former Chairperson of the Committee, IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, reported on the activities undertaken between its sessions, on the report of the seventh meeting of persons chairing the human rights treaty bodies, and on action taken by the General Assembly concerning treaty bodies. She also summarized a number of meetings and observances she had attended between the fifteenth and sixteenth sessions.
Commenting on some of the year's important events, she praised the participants in the working group of the Committee on the Status of Women on the optional protocol to the Convention that would allow individuals and groups the right to petition the Committee directly about violations of women's rights. The constructive debate was impressive. A negative attitude did not prevail. Some delegations emphasized the issue of overlapping should the optional protocol be adopted. The women's Convention was inadequate without the optional protocol, however, she added.
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She went on to outline working group discussion of the wording of various elements of the optional protocol and objections to controversial sections, such as the definition of the groups which would be allowed to petition the Committee. The goal of the working group was to develop the best possible text for an optional protocol. She suggested that the optional protocol should be adopted by 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
She also commented on proposals and progress on the Committee's present and future cooperation with other treaty bodies and specialized agencies, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and outlined a number of meetings and cooperative efforts. She highlighted the important achievements of recent world conferences, such as the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) which recognized that women's rights were human rights and that the human rights of women should form an integral part of all United Nations human rights activities. That in turn led to the efforts to coordinate the Committee's work with specialized agencies. Although the relationship of the Committee with non-governmental organizations had not been formalized, a great deal had been achieved, she added.
Ms. CORTI stressed that the new two-session schedule would allow the Committee to begin to address the enormous backlog of country reports. The backlog was so great, however, that even two sessions would be inadequate to fully resolve the problem. Continued work on the Committee's rules of procedure was necessary. Successful relationships must be established with the special human rights rapporteurs.
Following Ms. CORTI's statement, one expert requested that her report be made available to the Committee. Another also suggested that the Committee should have a report on the working group on the optional protocol.
An expert supported the need to pursue a more clearly defined relationship with non-governmental organizations to facilitate the future work of the Committee. Several Committee members commented on the necessity of timely reports from other treaty bodies and specialized agencies of the United Nations system and commented on the progress being made in that area.
Next, KRISTEN TIMOTHY, Deputy Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced the Committee's agenda item on implementation of article 21, which provides that the Committee may make suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of reports and information received from States parties.
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She said the Committee was in the process of making recommendations on Convention articles 7 and 8, on women in public life -- work which began in 1994. The Committee at its previous session had drafted text and asked Silvia Rose Cartwright, expert from New Zealand, to revise that text. The Secretariat then submitted a new draft text to experts. It should provide a basis for the Committee to conclude its work on the articles. She said the Committee would also hear reports from specialized agencies on implementation of the Convention.
JANE CONNERS, Chief of the Women's Rights Unit of the Division for the Advancement of Women, outlined its work under agenda item 8 on ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee. She said the Secretariat's report (document CEDAW/C/1997/5) contains a list of States parties whose reports could be considered at the next session, according to geographical representation. It also addresses a number of issues based on Committee experience from the previous year, including its relations with specialized agencies, country rapporteurs and the other treaty bodies. The report also contains an analysis of the practice of other human rights treaty bodies in receiving information from non-governmental organizations and their participation in the meetings of those bodies.
She said that on the reports submitted by specialized agencies to the Committee, the report suggests that it might wish to provide those bodies with more detailed guidelines to facilitate more focused input from them. The Committee might also wish to consider various ways by which specialized agencies and other United Nations entities might contribute to its work.
Concerning the concluding comments on reports of States parties, the report, among other suggestions, noted that the Committee might wish to develop guidelines for the introductory section of each concluding comment, she continued. It might also consider whether concluding comments relating to periodic reports should address progress that has been made since the presentation of the previous report and issues that emerged during dialogue relating to the earlier report which had or had not been addressed by the State party.
On the overall work of human rights treaty bodies, the report indicated that some steps had been taken to foster coordination between the human rights special procedures system, consisting of special and thematic rapporteurs, representatives, experts and working groups and treaty bodies, she said. In light of the recommendations of the meeting of the persons chairing human rights treaty bodies, the Committee could reflect on how to coordinate its work. Particular efforts were required to ensure that the work of the Committee and that of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences be coordinated and mutually enhanced.
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The reports of 32 States parties were awaiting consideration by the Committee, she said. the report recommended that the Committee might consider 10 reports in its July session. It also mentioned the need to consider other methods of handling the periodic reports. One such change involved the Committee identifying a limited number of issues in relation to which a report would be requested from the State party concerned. The Committee would then conduct its dialogue on the basis of that detailed report. It would offer the advantage of a reduction in the burden imposed on States parties, a much clearer focus for the dialogue between the Committee and representatives of the States party.
In addition, she said, the report contained a summary of the practice of each treaty body with respect to non-governmental organizations. On that basis, the report suggested that the Committee might wish to formalize and develop its fruitful relationship with non-governmental organizations. The Committee's current rules of procedure did not provide for participation of non-governmental organizations in its sessions.
Following Ms. TIMOTHY's introduction of the report, experts discussed which working group should deal with the work on the optional protocol to the Convention, which provides for individuals and groups to petition the Committee.
Ms. KING, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said the Committee had thought the work should be done in the context of the working groups and the members could decide by which group, once they had both started and decided on their programmes.
Noting efforts to streamline country report requirements, one expert noted ongoing debate about the possibilities of instituting a global report on overall human rights issues rather than individual reports to treaty bodies.
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